More and more people are opting for a vegan lifestyle for the benefit of animals and the environment and are doing without animal foods completely (or for the most part). But what is a vegan diet like for children? For nutrition experts, this is often still a controversial question and there are still no clear study results that provide a clear recommendation.
We explain, based on the current state of research, with which tips and under which conditions a vegan diet for children can work.
What you should consider when feeding your child a vegan diet
Contrary to some prejudices, a vegan diet is diverse and colorful. The food selection should therefore be multifaceted and varied - just as with a conventional diet. This way, you can also better ensure that your child is always supplied with the most important nutrients.
The complete nutritional needs of a vegan diet can only be met if you carefully plan your child's meals. A weekly plan helps you to keep track of important nutrients.
Provide your child with a variety of protein sources every day. Find out which foods are suitable below.
Carbohydrates provide your child with the energy he or she needs every day to grow, develop and explore, and ensure that he or she is full. Carbohydrates in the form of whole grain products, such as wild rice, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta or cereal flakes, are staple foods and therefore absolutely belong on the menu.
As an energy-rich snack for in-between meals or as a supplement to the rest of the diet, avocados, nuts, nut purees and dried fruits are suitable.
When shopping, look for seasonal, regional and organically grown foods. Not only will you reduce your ecological footprint, but these foods are freshly processed and therefore far less contaminated or injected with additives. Ready-to-eat products should be an exception, not just in a vegan diet. Also pay attention to the ingredient list of vegan substitutes. They often contain a lot of salt, sugar and trans fatty acids.
A purely vegan diet is not always possible or feasible. Especially in the everyday life of children, there can be many exceptions. For example, the vegan menu is sometimes broken by the catering offered in kindergarten or school. Especially at children's birthday parties or when visiting grandparents, food should bring one thing above all: Fun. Dogmatic guidelines are usually not very conducive.
- As parents, you should keep an eye on critical nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids to avoid deficiency symptoms. Without nutrient supplementation, a healthy, vegan diet is usually not possible for children and adolescents. A regularly conducted blood test provides clarity and proves that there is no risk of deficiencies.
The 7 most important nutrients for a (vegan) diet for children
- Provided it is possible for the mother and she would like to breastfeed, the Breast milk is the best food for babies, as it ensures an optimal supply of nutrients. Because immune substances are also passed on from the mother to the baby, the immune system is automatically strengthened. Later (at the earliest from the fifth, at the latest after the seventh month of life), the following is available complementary food is added to the diet to meet the infant's energy requirements in full. You can start with well-tolerated vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkin or fennel. But fruit, such as apples or bananas, can also be fed as puree. You can also enrich the porridges with various (pseudo) grains, such as millet as a source of iron or amaranth and quinoa, to increase the nutritional power. Canola, flax or hemp oil can also be added to the porridge to provide additional nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids to add.
- Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient supplement to support blood formation, as well as brain function and the function of the nervous system well. Vegan parents, as well as children, need this supplement, which is mainly found in animal foods (especially fish, liver, cheese and eggs). A deficiency discovered too late can lead to permanent neurological damage. For children, vitamin B12 is available in drop form. Pediatricians can check levels regularly. Children need five micrograms daily for age-appropriate development.
- Proteins: Proteins are essential for our life processes and a balanced vegan diet should be well designed to ensure adequate protein intake. Especially during the growth and development phase, a sufficient supply of proteins must be ensured in order to build cells. In our article on the 10 best protein suppliers, we give an overview of the best foods for a protein-rich diet. Good sources of protein include potatoes, legumes, soy products, oatmeal as well as pasta, wholemeal bread and nuts. Combinations of potatoes and cereals or pulses, nut and almond puree provide particularly high-quality protein. Different vegetable protein sources should be combined in one meal and spread throughout the day. This increases the biological value. To support the increased energy needs of children, babies should be introduced to protein-rich foods such as nuts, grains and pulses between the seventh and tenth month of life. An athletic 16-year-old weighing 60 kg needs 54 g of protein daily to develop at his best.
- Children need sufficient Calcium to build up their bone substance and teeth. In a non-vegan diet, calcium comes primarily from dairy products. For an equivalent calcium intake as with cow's milk, we have therefore added calcium to our Oat Base Calcium with calcium. enriched. Green vegetables in particular have a high calcium content. These include leaf spinach, savoy cabbage, broccoli, kale and rocket. Almonds and sesame seeds are also suitable for children in the form of nut, almond paste and tahini and can thus be perfectly integrated into the diet. Since salt promotes calcium excretion, parents should use salt sparingly.
- Zinc is important for our immune system and physical development and is involved in many metabolic processes in the body. It is especially important for children. Vegan zinc suppliers are, for example, pumpkin or sunflower seeds and seeds such as linseed or poppy seeds.
- It is also important to ensure a good iron intake because iron is important for body growth and the immune system. Important: For a good iron intake, it is recommended to eat iron-rich foods in combination with vitamin C (through fresh fruit and vegetables). A rich breakfast of oatmeal or pulses and flaxseed, as well as pistachios, contribute to a high iron intake. In girls, the need for iron is further increased by the onset of menstruation and the corresponding loss of blood. Iron deficiency can also be compensated by kale, quinoa or dried fruits. Iron supplements should only be taken if a doctor has diagnosed an iron deficiency.
- Also, children need to have enough vitamin D so that their bone growth is guaranteed in the best possible way. The body produces vitamin D on its own when it soaks up the sun. But especially during the dark season (October to February), northern Europeans often have a vitamin D deficiency, which is why the nutrient can be added to children's food via supplements. On gloomy days, 20 micrograms of vitamin D in the form of supplements is useful.